Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I Am Catholic, Really

The light of Jesus is reflected in the saints and shines out through them. But the ‘saints’ are not only those persons who have been explicitly canonized. There are always hidden saints, too, who receive in their communion with Jesus a ray of his splendor, a concrete and real experience of God.

Reflection – “Why do you believe?” A young woman asked me that question point blank a few years ago. She herself was struggling mightily with the basic question of faith, and wanted to know why I had come down on the side of being a Catholic Christian.
I gave her four reasons, actually. The first three were: 1) that Catholicism makes sense, hangs together as a rational system; 2) that it has generated an impressive outpouring of art, music, beauty, and intellectual achievement collectively known as ‘Western Civilization’; and 3) that the more I try to obey Jesus and live the Gospel, the more peace and joy I seem to have, even in times of trial and darkness.
In light of this passage from Ratzinger, though, I want to focus on the fourth and strongest reason why I, personally, have decided to believe in Jesus and in his Catholic Church. And that fourth reason is Jim Guinan, Mary Pennefather, Jean Fox, Frs. Emile Briere and Gene Cullinane, and an odd half dozen others I could mention, some of whom are still walking around among us (the ones I mention have all died).
Those readers of the blog who know the MH community know very well what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, I can simply say that it has been my privilege to know saints. Not just to know them in a book, but to hang out with, wash dishes alongside, go for walks with, play cards with, even get into arguments with saints.
By saints I don’t mean ‘really nice people’. There’s all sorts of really nice people in the world, and they’re… well, really nice! Nothing wrong with that, at all. Thank God for the nice people—I wish I was one of them!
But the people I mention—there was something else going on there. Jim with his goofy Irish humor, his ever-present rosary, and his keen intellect, Mary who struggled mightily with anxiety all her life, and prayed, prayed, prayed, and served in simple humble ways, Jean with her charismatic words, piercing eyes, and tender heart, Fr. B and his constant choice to love, no matter what it cost him, Fr. Gene who offered everything to Christ in his last illness and death... there was more going on with these people than just ‘aren’t they nice!’ I honestly can’t describe it—you have to have known them, or people like them, to know what I’m talking about.
If you are fortunate enough to know a living saint (and I realize I’m being slightly presumptuous in ‘canonizing’ these people) you know what I mean. A light shining out, a presence bigger than them but in them, somehow, an effect they have on their surroundings that is way beyond their own human gifts. Like a living tabernacle, or icon. In Fr. Gene’s last illness, when I was privileged to be among his caregivers, I always had an urge to genuflect when I entered his sickroom. Christ was there, in him.
Ultimately, I have chosen to throw my lot in with Jesus and Catholicism because I have experienced the light of Christ shining out of a good dozen or so of my brothers and sisters in an extraordinary way, and have seen this light growing in beauty and intensity in dozens and dozens more of the ‘saints in the making’ I live with.
And I want that light. I want to shine like that. I want Jesus to do something with my poor humanity that will reflect the beauty of his human divinity. I’ve had a concrete, real experience of God as he chose to manifest himself in Jim, Mary, Jean, Frs B and Gene and a whole bunch of other people. And honestly, that’s enough for me. That’s why I am Catholic.

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